***Spoiler Warning: This post discusses Game of Thrones events through Season 6, Episode 10, and A Song of Ice and Fire book events and theories. Spoilers***
Like a great composition the accomplished maestro begins from a quiet melody in the corners of his mind, “The Winds of Winter” tiptoed in on building notes, the crescendo of a broken mother’s plans for vengeance consuming her as one by one, her children could no longer fill the void. Watching power quickly passed hand to hand, from those believing they’ll always have it, to others who’ve had it taken away time and again, we feel the natural compulsion to revel in comeuppances…in righteousness. Justice is served, what was wrong is put right; those who require avenging are given proper retaliation, but in this world — in any world — can such things ever be more than hollow victory? What has Cersei Lannister won for the loss of her children? What would Jon or Sansa or Arya truly gain or take back? There is no recompensing the Starks, the Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Martells, the Baratheons, the Targaryens; nothing can make the losses of war tolerable. There isn’t a battle won that won’t be followed by another challenge; nor a King or Queen in the North who will ever be safe. In its sixth closing hour, Game of Thrones deftly explored the tentative state of power, the fragility of life and love, and the lengths people will go to for what (or who) they believe in, but repeating history and infinite circles seem the only true certainty.
We received a good portion of what we really wanted from the Game of Thrones‘ finale; in some regards it was almost predictable, but in ways and means there were a few excellent surprises.
From hints dropped like bricks, we knew Cersei’s wildfire plans would silence the sparrows, but no one imagined Qyburn’s recently recruited little birds being quite as vicious as they were dispatching poor Grand Maester Pycelle (or Lancel). And, though relief coursed through us at a Mountain-ous door block, it’s difficult to understand why instead of leaving a boy King alone, Cersei wouldn’t have her last son escorted to safety — by her side. Was she that angry with Tommen, or in her quest for revenge — and that was some terrible, glorious revenge exacted on Septa Unella — did Cersei simply not think about how crushed the young king would be over losing Margaery? (We bid our clever, smirking girl a fond farewell.)
Of the hour’s most powerful moments, Ser Davos finally confronting Melisandre, Liam Cunningham’s crushing, tearful performance as he tossed Shireen’s little stag at the priestess, demanding her confession and requesting Jon’s quick sentence, was an incredible, soulful high. As predicted, Snow’s soft underbelly proves his continued vulnerability; instead of a death sentence Jon commands Melisandre to ride south and never return, but again, what can replace love for — and a broken heart over — a lost child? In Dorne, the last of the Martells made a pact with the last Tyrell and — through Varys (who’s surely hiding a magic carpet or a pocket teleporter under his robe) — with Dany (“fire and blood”). In one fell swoop, Cersei wiped out Olenna’s son, her grandson and granddaughter, leaving the Lady of Highgarden with nothing but her anger and quick-witted insults.
If we were holding out for a different Lady (Stoneheart, that is), in lieu of her mother, a girl took care of some nasty Frey business more than satisfactorily. His look of confusion transformed to comprehension, then terror, as the constantly gloating and abusive Walder was delivered the same fate he served to Arya’s mother — but, not before the young Stark let him know he’d been served his own sons. Her sister, safe for the moment at Winterfell, spoiled another man’s appetite for power, and pulled Littlefinger’s machinations to a screeching halt. Sansa proves she’s surpassed her manipulative teacher, quickly shutting down his proposition at the Godswood and later, enjoying Baelish’s expression as her brother is declared the King in the North.
As pointed out by David Benioff and Dan Weiss (Inside the Episode), undercutting the thrill of Jon being declared King in the North by Houses Mormont, Glover…the Knights and the Wildlings, is the callback to his brother Robb similarly sworn fealty not long before his death. As Game of Thrones‘ women move into place, setting up an entirely female rule (Dany, Yara, Cersei [albeit, temporarily], Ellaria), the expectation that Sansa will eventually take her position as Wardeness of the North is impossible to ignore. Whether after Dany and her dragons presumably assist in taking out the White Walker hordes, Jon will step down in deference to his aunt (somehow Bran and his siblings must reconnect to pass on that knowledge), or if instead, Jon is truly killed during that final fight, we can hardly expect the mirroring moment of declaration to be insignificant.
The long-awaited finish and related revelation of Bran’s ravenesque visit to the Tower of Joy finally confirms what we already knew: Jon Snow’s blood runs Targaryen. Just as the last of his mother’s — Lyanna Stark’s — blood flows from her body, she whispers her plea that Ned protect her son from Robert (Baratheon)…“If Robert finds out, he’ll kill him. You know it. You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned.”
In another of the hour’s most moving moments, Daenerys rewards Tyrion’s infinite insight and sage advice. With eyes as expressive as his heart is heavy and his mind, cynical, the best of the Lannisters (maybe — I’d love him to be Targaryen, too) finally receives the same loyalty he’s given.
Peter Dinklage infuses his every line with its appropriate weight — or slightness, as the case may be — and along with Liam Cunningham and Lena Headey, provided the Emmy and cheer worthy finale moments that commanded our attention.
As the forces who hope to gain peace through their combined power rally and head toward what they all hope and believe will be a final confrontation, “The Winds of Winter” poses a challenging and timely question: Can ruling daughters be different from their fathers? Already, Tyrion’s counsel proved necessary to sway Daenerys away from Aerys’ transmissible sweeping anger; Ellaria, her daughters and Lady Olenna seek nothing less than violent revenge, Yara still seeks her murderous uncle’s death, and truly, Cersei cannot be saved (her prophesied fate is on its way in the form of one little brother or more likely, the clearly angry other [Jaime]). Who wins the Game of Thrones seems far less significant than who can somehow peacefully survive it; is the human price far too exorbitant for anything else to matter? Once winter arrives as “father always said” it would and the white raven’s message is brought to Westeros, can the warm light of summer ever shine on its inhabitants’ faces again?
That look from Jaime, though…
As one of the last holdouts I can honestly say I felt just as fulfilled by Arya’s vengeance, as if Michelle Fairley had shown up herself, though I would like a word with B & W about all their teasing hints.
Best lines: “My name is Arya Stark. I want you to know that. The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.”
“If he commands you to burn children, your lord is evil.”
“We know no king, but the King in the North whose name is Stark. I don’t care if he’s a bastard, Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins…
I could not love little Lady Mormont more.
The fade from baby to Jon was a bit heavy-handed for my taste, but I get that non-readers may have needed that extra connector.
What a shame to have so short a Benjen reunion. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but with his comment about the dead — including himself — not being able to pass the wall, did Benjen out himself as Coldhands (even though GRRM has outright stated that in the books, he is not)?
Kudos to Daario for saying what we all feel — “Fork Meereen!” — but would that Dorne were added to the phrase.
Likewise, our collective exasperated sighs exploded at first sight of Sam and Gilly in the chock-full hour; there’s no time for that nonsense. Still, we were fairly rewarded with the vision of that amazing, Harry Potter-esque Citadel library we’d all love to visit.
Though immediately following “Winds”, my feeling was dislike at the change of pacing between the two halves of the supersized hour, after a second viewing, and some thought about the slow build to Cersei’s big event, followed by a succession of quicker events, then a winding-down to sailing ships, I came to a better feeling about the way Miguel Sapochnik handled his timing. There was a great musicality to it all.